For six decades the United States of America has imposed an embargo (el bloqueo in Spanish) on Cuba. Separated by less than 200 kilometres, this action by the world’s largest economy has heavily restricted Cuba’s commercial, economic and financial options. The embargo has also shaped modern Cuba’s uniqueness as a country and provided the totalitarian Cuban government with a convenient (and sometimes legitimate) bogeyman to blame. During our Cuba visit, Rocío and I saw several examples of anti-blockade propaganda.
Rocío and I wanted to catch a train on our Cuban trip at least once. Unfortunately, the Santiago de Cuba to Holguín train times weren’t convenient. Instead, Rocío asked around how to get there and we went trucking.
We caught a passenger truck one third of the way (10 CUP/US$0.40 each) and then a second truck the remaining distance (2.50 CUC/US$2.50 each). Well, we thought it was taking us to Holguín. However, it dropped us off part way.
Slightly annoyed we got ripped off (in Cuban terms) for the second ride, I soon became glad we didn’t reach our destination. We were about to have a rare experience. Continue reading
Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba lies far from Havana and is known for both its music and rebellious streak. Rocío and I visited Santiago twice in December 2016, firstly for Fidel Castro’s memorial rally and funeral and later, returning from Baracoa. While based in Santiago we had an epic day trip to La Gran Piedra I blogged about here.
Moncada Barracks and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement
On 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful armed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada army barracks. This is regarded as the start of the Cuban Revolution and the official revolutionary movement is named 26 de Julio (26th of July) after this date. The former barracks was converted to a school although some of the battle’s bullet holes remain. Continue reading
Wildfires, tree rat stew, a fallen tree blocking the road, slavery, a butterfly with clear wings, and a ride with the Cuban Air Force, this December 2016 La Gran Piedra day trip had almost everything. La Gran Piedra National Park (Parque Nacional de la Gran Piedra) is named after the monolith at the top of the mountain about 28 kilometres from Santiago de Cuba.
Waking up early, our Santiago de Cuba hosts kindly provided a 6am breakfast. We walked to bus terminal near the port on Jesús Menéndez Avenue. Our options from hear were a bus to Siboney 1 hour later or a 10am bus direct to La Gran Piedra (The Big Stone).
Instead of these options, we:
- Rode moto taxis across town (20 CUP; US$0.80 each) to El Palo del Aura where more frequent transport departed towards Siboney.
- Caught a bus for 1 CUP (US$0.04), exiting at the junction to La Gran Piedra. Here we watched lizards while waiting with others for a ride up the mountain.
- Took a private car (organised by a man in a tractor) up the mountain for 20 CUC (US$20; negotiated down from 30 CUC).
This car should have delivered us to the top, however, we came across the following:
7 December 2016 was an epic day. After Fidel Castro’s passing and associated events, Rocío and I looked forward to finally beginning our normal holiday. However, little is normal in Cuba and this day certainly wasn’t.
Singapore Chris who we met outside Fidel’s funeral joined us at Santiago de Cuba’s Avenida de los Libertadores Intermunicipal Bus Station. Trucks and utilities east to Guantanamo and Baracoa leave from here and not the Serrano Intermunicipal Bus Station stated in Lonely Planet’s 2015 guidebook.
The nine day mourning period following Fidel Castro’s death culminated with his 4 December 2016 funeral at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. A private affair, only family and select guests attended the event. Fidel’s ashes arrived to the cemetery early that morning having travelled for four days across Cuba from Havana. Continue reading
After 4 days caravanning across Cuba, Fidel’s ashes arrived to Santiago on 3 December 2016. That evening a second mass rally occurred. Unlike Havana’s international speakers, Santiago’s rally featured only Cuban orators. Some world leaders did attend though including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and ex-presidents of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Soccer legend Diego Maradona and presidents Jakob Zuma of South Africa and Robert Mugabe were also in attendance although Rocío and I did not see them.
The Santiago rally arrangement and procedures were similar to Havana’s including the same master of ceremonies, although the speeches were more domestically focused. Continue reading
The morning after the 29 November 2016 memorial rally, Fidel’s ashes toured Havana, the beginning of a 4-day cross-country journey east to Santiago de Cuba. The route traced in reverse January 1959’s Caravan of Liberty when Fidel travelled from Santiago to Havana celebrating the end of the Batista dictatorship, the culmination of the Cuban Revolution.
Rocío and I witnessed Fidel’s ashes pass three times, once in Havana on 30 November and twice in Santiago on 3 and 4 December. On all occasions, people lined the streets in anticipation. Officials stood at regular intervals ensuring people remained off the road.
Old Havana, 30 November 2016
Early on 30 November we walked from our Old Havana accommodation to coastal Avenida del Puerto (San Pedro) for the caravan. Continue reading